A New Beginning… Again

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September 7, 2007
A New Beginning… Again
by Jimmy Mohr

Change isn’t necessarily a negative when you’re a football team with a total of 56 losses littering your NFL resume in your five seasons. So this past off-season, GM Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak went to work changing the Texans. The end result of their efforts is 11 new faces scattered among the opening day first-team that will line up opposite the Kansas City Chiefs when they visit Reliant Stadium this Sunday.

Without a doubt, the most significant change from last year is the man under center. After five mediocre seasons, the Texans parted ways with David Carr, their so-called “franchise” QB and first ever draft pick. Filling his #8 jersey (literally) will be former Falcons back-up Matt Schaub, who was acquired via trade just prior to the 2007 draft. After an impressive preseason, Schaub seems to be, at the very least, an upgrade from Carr; if we’re lucky, he’ll be the man to take the Texans to the next level.

Another significant addition to the offense was a legitimate 1,000-yard rusher in former Packers RB Ahman Green. A nine-year vet, Green has rushed for 1,000 yards in 6 of the past 7 seasons. If he makes it 7 of 8, he will become just the second Texans back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and the first since Domanick Davis/Williams accomplished the feat in 2004. Kubiak hopes that with Schaub and Green in tow, his offense can improve upon their ranking as the fifth worst in total offense in ’06.

Defensively, the Texans used their #1 pick (10th overall) on a defensive lineman for the third year in a row. Twenty-year old Amobi Okoye became the youngest player ever drafted in the first round and joins fellow first round picks Travis Johnson (16th in ’05) and Mario Williams (1st in ’06) on the defensive front. With such a heavy investment in personnel up front, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the trio to improve the pass rush. The Texans’ defense managed only 28 sacks last season, tied for 28th in the league.

The Chiefs are coming off a 9-7 season that ended with a first round playoff loss at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl Champion Colts. In an attempt to get younger, they shipped their oft-injured starting QB Trent Green to Miami with the intention of handing the reigns over to second-year player Brodie Croyle. A poor preseason showing by Croyle (34.5 QB rating in 3 games), however, forced Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards to announce that 34-year old veteran Damon Huard would start the season under center. Primarily a back-up, Huard owns a 10-4 record as a starter (5-3 in 2006) over his 11 year career. He is not known for lighting up the scoreboard but is excellent at getting rid of the ball quickly and taking care of it.

Regardless of who lines up under center, the key to the Chiefs’ offense is RB Larry Johnson. He touched the ball on 45% of the Chiefs offensive snaps last season and accounted for 43% of their total yards. He used this statistical leverage to score a new contract but his 25-day holdout to secure that contract forced him to miss all of training camp. With only three carries under his belt in the preseason, Johnson’s conditioning is the question of the week. Edwards expects Johnson and his back-up Michael Bennett to share carries on Sunday, but Kubiak isn’t buying it. He fully expects LJ to get his typical 20-25 carries.

The Chiefs defense was in shambles when Edwards took over following the 2005 season. Along with defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, the defense has steadily improved. The unit ranked 31st in total defense in ’04, 25th in ’05 and 16th last year. After adding LBs Donnie Edwards and Napoleon Harris via free agency in the offseason, their linebacking corps is now one of the best in the league. Edwards and Harris join former Longhorn Derrick Johnson, who recorded 4.5 sacks in his second season last year.

Up front, the Chiefs’ pass rush took a hit when DE Jared Allen was suspended for the first two games of the season courtesy of Roger “The Hammer” Goodell due to multiple drunk driving arrests. Allen was third on the team with 77 tackles and led the team with 7.5 sacks last season. His replacement, Jimmy Wilkerson, is an able back-up, but look for the Texans to test the right side of the Chiefs’ defensive line.

What to Expect

When the Texans have the football…
Kubiak never felt comfortable enough with Carr to completely open up his playbook. Now that he has Schaub and a legitimate 1,000 yard rusher in Green, there’s little reason for the coach to hold back. Green and Ron Dayne will be used to pound the ball, control the clock and set up the passing game. After establishing the run early, look for the Texans to take to the air against an aged secondary that features cornerbacks Ty Law (11th season) and Patrick Surtain (10th season). The pair combined for just five interceptions last year (four by Law) and will have to use their veteran savvy to make up for the step or two they’ve lost over the years.

Unquestionably, the Texans’ number one receiver is Pro Bowler Andre Johnson, who led the league last year with 103 receptions. It marked his first 100-catch season and the second time he has eclipsed the 1,000 yard benchmark. His new partner in crime at the #2 slot is WR Kevin Walter, who will be making just his fifth career start. Walter should see plenty of opportunities considering AJ will draw the most attention from opposing defenses. With rookie sensation Jacoby Jones nipping at his heels, Walter will need to start strong or find himself watching from the sideline. Starting at TE will be Owen Daniels, who last year tied Andre Johnson for the team lead with five TD receptions despite catching 69 fewer passes. He should see plenty of action with Schaub who admits that he has a penchant to frequently look for his tight end over the middle to stretch opposing defenses.

When the Chiefs have the football…
With Johnson likely a far cry from being in peak form, he will share the load with Bennett, who carried the ball 36 times to LJ’s 416 last season. Without his go-to guy, offensive coordinator Mike Solari will have to keep the gameplan conservative and attempt to dink and dunk the ball downfield. Orchestrating the offense will be Huard who threw only one interception in 244 attempts last season. The Texans will have to pay particularly close attention to eight-time Pro Bowl TE Tony Gonzalez who led the team with 70 receptions last season and was tied for the team lead with five touchdowns.

He’s the only TE in NFL history to tally 900 or more receiving yards in six seasons and his first reception on Sunday will make him the second tight end in NFL history to record a catch in 100 consecutive games (Ozzie Newsome, 150). Flanking Gonzalez is a receiving tandem of Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker. They combined for an unimpressive 94 receptions, 1,421 yards and six scores last season. Despite their meager numbers, they did manage to total 23 receptions of 20-plus yards.

Match-Ups to Watch

Matt Schaub vs. The Ghost of David Carr
Not since the inaugural game against the Cowboys has there been this much anticipation to see a Texans’ quarterback in action. Schaub was worth two second round picks and a two-pick slide in the first round to the Texans hierarchy and now he has to prove that he was worth that much to the fans. Look for Kubiak to keep the play-calling simple in the early going in order for Schaub to gain some confidence.

Texans Defensive Front 4 vs. Chiefs’ OL
DE Mario Williams’ 4.5 sacks last season did little to assuage the natives and as he enters his second season, his performance will be under the proverbial microscope again. He’s joined up front by the rookie Okoye, Johnson and Anthony Weaver (expected to play despite missing the preseason). This quartet will face a Chiefs’ front that struggled to gel in the preseason. They’ve lost two Pro Bowl linemen to retirement in as many years (Willie Roaf and Will Shields) and are struggling to fill the holes. The right side of the line, consisting of John Welbourn and Chris Terry, are considered most vulnerable after having served as back-ups last year.

Texans Returners vs. Chiefs Returner
The biggest surprise coming out of Texans camp was the emergence of third round draft pick PR/KR Jacoby Jones. Of the five punts he returned in the preseason, two of them didn’t end until he crossed the goal line. A strong performance Sunday will tip the field position battle in the Texans’ favor and shorten the field for Schaub and the offense. Returning kickoffs for the Texans will be the ever-dangerous yet fragile Jerome Mathis. He enters the 2007 season healthy after appearing in only two games last season. He will be looking to duplicate his breakout rookie season in ’05 when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

The Chiefs will counter with return specialist, and former Detroit Lion, Eddie Drummond who’s expected to fill the void left by Dante Hall. Drummond handles both the punt and kick return duties and arrives in KC with an impressive five-year resume. He’s scored six touchdowns on returns in his career (including one against the Texans in ’03), only three fewer than Hall in 27 fewer games.

Three Keys to Victory

1. Don’t Get Ahead of Yourselves
Five years of futility can’t be reversed in 60 minutes. There’s a different feel and attitude with this team coming into ’07 and they should come out of the tunnel with more fire and energy than they’ve shown in a long time. And the Chiefs are certainly a beatable team, especially when you take into consideration their biggest offensive weapon is not exactly on top of his game. But they did go to the playoffs last year and have won 19 games the past two seasons, 11 more than the Texans.

2. Throw More Than 1 TD
In David Carr’s final 32 games as a Texan, he threw for two or more touchdowns in just five games. He threw none in 14 games. Any wonder why the Texans were 8-24? The team has to make plays in the passing game and it’s up to Kubiak to help his new protégé out by devising a smart, effective gameplan against a team that should be easy pickings, relatively speaking.

3. Pressure the Quarterback
The Texans have invested heavily in their defensive front. Sacks are the method by which the average fan grades a defensive linemen’s success, so in many of the faithful’s opinion, there’s been little ROI so far. Unfortunately, Huard is excellent at getting rid of the ball to avoid losing precious yardage. He was sacked only 16 times in 10 games last season (compared with 24 times in only 8 games for Trent Green). Huard isn’t mobile, but he doesn’t hold the ball long, either. Quarterback pressures will be just as valuable as sacks this week.

Views on the Game

Blake says: Texans put the diapers back on LJ. Texans 24, Chiefs 10

Bob says: The Schaub Era starts on the right foot – Brown’s right foot. Texans 20, Chiefs 17.

Jimmy says: Tim Purpura gets gunned down amidst a hail of bullets as he streaks during the third quarter; the Texans dedicate this one to him. Texans 27, Chiefs 16

Keith says: The Texans have experience beating the Hard Knocks team in week one – remember that, Dallas? Texans 23, Chiefs 16

Mike says: LJ will have his usual good game, but other than that, who will the Chiefs turn to? Huard? The guy is a backup. Texans 21 Chiefs 17

Ric says: 9-7, here we come! Texans 24, Chiefs 20

Roy says: I think the defenses will have trouble. Texans 27, Chiefs 24

Warren says: Even Edwards’ good teams tend to start slowly, and these Chiefs don’t look like a good team. Texans 17, Chiefs 13.

2007 Regular Season Records
Blake 0-0; Bob 0-0; Jimmy 0-0;
Keith 0-0; Mike 0-0; Ric 0-0; Roy 0-0; Warren 0-0
Week 1 Kansas City Chiefs
2006 Record: (9-7)
09.09.07 | 12pm
Houston, TX Texans Leaders (Preseason) Sage Rosenfels
37/57; 388 yds, 4/0 Wali Lundy
25/101; 4.0 YPC; 1 TD Jacoby Jones
11/139; 12.6 YPC; 2 TD Chiefs Leaders (Preseason) Casey Printers
19/34; 202 yds; 0/0 Michael Bennett
21/83; 4.0 YPC; 0 TD

Chris Hannon
7/71; 10.1 YPC; 1 TD

2007 Schedule Date Opponent Result 08.11 Chicago 19-20 08.18 at Arizona 33-20 08.25 Dallas 28-16 08.30 at Tampa Bay 24-31 Regular Season 09.09 Kansas City 20-3 09.16 at Carolina 34-21 09.23 Indianapolis 24-30  09.30 at Atlanta 16-26 10.07 Miami 22-19 10.14 at Jacksonville 17-37 10.21 Tennessee 36-38 10.28 at San Diego   11.04 at Oakland   11.11 BYE  — 11.18 New Orleans   11.25 at Cleveland   12.02 at Tennessee   12.09 Tampa Bay   12.13 Denver   12.23 at Indianapolis   12.30 Jacksonville     Overall Record 3-4